BOSTON — In the joyful aftermath of the Nets’ 108-106 victory Monday night in Cleveland, Spencer Dinwiddie, who hit the winning buzzer-beater, was adamant about giving credit for the win where credit was due. He noted that third-year center Jarrett Allen not only had 22 points on 9-for-10 shooting and 21 rebounds but made a key block in the final seconds and then got to the loose ball that set up Dinwiddie’s game-winner.
Over the previous two seasons, Dinwiddie always has been Allen’s biggest fan as well as a close friend, and those feelings were evident when Dinwiddie was asked about Allen’s improvement this season. “Well, he’s finally playing like a man,” Dinwiddie said with a broad smile. “It’s so nice to see. It’s like when your little brother grows up and just starts doing things that you knew he could do, but you’re like, man, I’m waiting to see it. It brings a tear of joy to my eye.”
Indeed, there was some question coming into the season about whether Allen even would retain his starting role after the addition of free-agent DeAndre Jordan. Allen got off to a slow start, but over the past seven games, he has recorded five double-doubles and is averaging 15.9 points and 12.3 rebounds in that span while providing elite rim protection. He also leads the NBA in field goal percentage at .679.
The fact that Allen’s second career 20-20 effort came against rugged Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson, who pushed Allen around in the past, seemed a measure of his progress. “That’s his growth area, so real credit to him and our strength and conditioning team,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “He really matched Tristan pound-for-pound tonight.”
Describing how far he has come in learning to handle the Tristan Thompsons of the world, Allen said, “It was a little bit of me knowing what I need to do on the defensive end as I get older and up in years — I’m 21, what am I saying? But I’m obviously going to get stronger and get a little weight on me. I’m just going to play defense better.”
The Nets (9-8) have won five of their past six games and righted their season heading to a matchup with the Celtics (12-4) Wednesday night at TD Garden. Jordan is listed as questionable with left ankle soreness, so Allen’s role will be vital.
The past five wins have come against teams with losing records, so the Celtics should provide a measuring stick for the Nets. “I think it is,” Allen said. “They’re top three in the Eastern Conference and you don’t get there without playing good offense and defense. It’s a good opportunity to see where we stand right now.”
Point guard Kyrie Irving (right shoulder impingement), who left the Celtics as a free agent to sign with the Nets last summer, also is out, but even though he won’t be there, Allen still expects the Nets to receive a rude welcome in Boston.
“Even if Kyrie wasn’t on our team, Boston is a vicious place to play,” Allen said with a laugh.
One area where Allen has shown significant improvement is offensive rebounding now that he’s learned he can get away with being more physical than in his first two years. And Jordan has helped him in myriad ways.
“He’s been open to everything,” Allen said of Jordan. “Even during halftime, he was coming in to me, telling me how to box out Tristan Thompson. He was telling me how to get offensive rebounds. If Tristan Thompson goes to block a shot, he says ‘You have to get that rebound.’ So, he’s been motivating me a lot.”